Monday, January 26, 2015

Review of The Didache Bible: Ignatius Bible Edition

Of all the "upcoming" Bibles that my readers have been waiting for over the past year, The Didache Bible: Ignatius Bible Edition ranks as likely one of the highest in anticipation.  Of course, as often happens with such eager expectations, one may feel let down when the final product is finally in their hands.  Sometimes, particularly in the area of quality Catholic Bibles, anticipation often is greater than the delivery.  Fortunately, this is not the case with The Didache Bible.  In almost every way, this Bible delivers on what it was promised to be.  Those who have wished for a Bible that incorporated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in a comprehensive, yet readable way with the inclusion of useful study aids will be utterly satisfied.  Those who have wanted commentary and annotations for a full one-volume edition of the RSV-2CE, they need not wait any longer.  The Didache Bible is a great achievement and many will be thanking Midwest Theological Forum (MTF) and Ignatius Press for a long time.

One aspect of reviewing Bibles that has become more important for me over the years is page presentation and layout.  Content is, of course, important, but if I am not led or drawn into the text, it will ultimately serve no real purpose.  The Didache Bible excels in how the Biblical text, cross-references, and annotations are presented on the page.  I don't think the RSV-2CE has ever looked so good.  The white page against the dark black type really makes the text pop.  Between the scriptural text and the commentary is placed the cross-references, which are bracketed off with a thin red line.  This serves as an aesthetically beautiful break between the two.  It is subtle, but I think it really works, much like the use of red in the HarperOne NABRE.  The commentary, which in the New Testament is quite extensive, is only slightly smaller in size that the scriptural text.  The paper does not lend itself to ghosting, although it is by no means opaque.  If you have ever owned a prayer book or missal from MTF you will notice a similarity in this regard.  One last point that I wanted to highlight about this edition is its size.  I don't know why, but I was expecting it to be much bigger.  However, it is remarkably compact for a study Bible.  Its size reminds me of the NOAB RSV published back in the late 70's and still available today.   What this means is that not only do you have a fine study Bible, but also one that you could take with you pretty much everywhere.  All in all, this is a beautiful Bible to read.  I think its size and page layout are the real highlights of this Bible.

The edition I am reviewing is the hardcover one.  The bonded leather edition is due out later this year, although I think this Bible deserves to be bound in a nicer genuine or goatskin cover.  However, I will be sure to let you know when I receive confirmation on a date for the bonded leather one.  The hardcover edition is quite sturdy and opens up flat from the first day.   It came with two bible ribbons, which is a nice touch.  This bible was advertised as having a sewn binding, which I still believe it has.  However, they have enhanced the binding with some glue, which at a few spots is clearly noticeable.  I would like to hear back from some of my readers as to what they think about this.   This edition was printed in India.

Now, as for the content found in this book.  As mentioned earlier, the translation is the RSV-2CE.  I am not going to spend any time discussing translations, which we do here so often anyways.  However, since I am a theology teacher who uses MTF's Didache Semester Series in my classroom, I will say that this serves as a perfect compliment to that classroom text which utilizes the RSV and NRSV in the textbooks.  

The introductory material includes a foreword from emeritus Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago Francis George, followed by an introduction by Fr. James Socias.  What follows are a couple of short essays by the editors explaining how Catholics read the Bible.  Here you find reference to Dei Verbum and those early paragraphs of the CCC which discuss the literal and spiritual reading of the Bible.  Following that, there is a "Brief Summary of Sacred Scripture" which gives a very short overview of the main theme(s) of each Biblical book.  The introductory material concludes with a chronology of Old Testament and New Testament events and a list of passages of scripture for personal meditation, including the parables and miracles of Christ.  These opening aids are more geared toward the beginner, but can be consulted by a seasoned Bible reader.  I could see them being extremely helpful to someone in RCIA.

Looking at the commentary based off the CCC, you will immediately notice that a lot of work has been put into adapting the CCC to work in this format.  For the most part, there are not direct quotations found in the annotations.  To be sure, there are indeed some, but most have been re-worded in order to make them applicable to a particular biblical passage.  Each of them, however, contains a direct reference to the CCC paragraph that has been re-worded.  And there are plenty of these CCC cross-references!  I should say that you often don't realize that it has been edited, since what you read sounds like it is coming directly from the CCC.  I would imagine that this took the bulk of the editors time.  Some of the pages, primarily in the New Testament, you will find that the CCC-based commentary takes up over half the page.  While most of the pages are concerned with referencing the CCC, there are numerous annotations that point the reader to connections with the Liturgy, occasional quotes from recent Popes and the Church Fathers, analysis of lexical issues, and allegorical interpretations of OT passages.  I found the liturgical connections to be very helpful and insightful.   For example, there is a note in Daniel 6:10 which connects Daniel praying three times a day to a passage in the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours.  There will be much to consider and pray about for years in these commentaries.  As you might guess, there is more commentary, per page, in the NT than in the OT.  Certain places, like in portions of the historical, wisdom, and prophetic books, have less than a quarter of a page of commentary on them.  Judith would be a perfect example.  Let me also say that if you are looking for commentary that is more historical in nature, as found in more academic study Bibles, the Didache Bible is not for you.  One last study help, in regards to the commentary, that the editors of The Didache Bible included are these occasional red in-text boxes which are found at the bottom of certain pages.   For example, there are two of these found in Genesis 3, where they explain the "Rebellion of Satan and His Angels"  and "Sin, Suffering, and Death."  These are not found on every page, but do pop-up and provide some helpful insights which are always references to, you guessed it, the CCC.

I should also note that each biblical book comes with an introduction, which looks at authorship, dating, audience, and main themes.  I would call the content of each generally conservative, but not without acknowledging difficult issues relating to authorship and dating.  You see this most notably in the intros to the books of the Pentateuch.  Overall, I think it strikes a good balance.  They are not as extensive as found in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible or those in the most of the entries in the NABRE.

There are also over 100 apologetical explanation pages that are scattered, without any real order, throughout the Bible.  I breathed a big sigh of relief when I found out that they were not printed on glossy paper, but instead the same paper that the other pages are printed on.  While I think a Bible like the New Catholic Answers Bible is great, all those glossy pages make it difficult for the Bible to open flat.  These apologetics pages are comprehensive, yet not overwhelming.  They provide ton of scriptural cross-references, as well a referring to the CCC.  The issues range from the importance of the Protoevangelium to the Rosary.  In the end, this make this Bible not only the best CCC-based Bible on the market, but also the best apologetics one.  (The info in the index also assists those engaged in apologetics.)

Looking at the study aids in the back of the Bible, I think the maps provided may be the best in any Catholic edition I have ever seen.  There are a total of 27 unique maps that are both colorful and full of great information.  These maps cover everything from Abraham's migration to 7 Churches of Revelation, including the period of the Maccabees. Most helpful are the numerous maps showing the journeys during the patriarchal period of Genesis.  They are printed on glossary paper, and the only curious thing about the set of maps, is that they are placed immediately after Revelation, but before the rest of the material in the appendix which is printed on regular paper.  I wonder why the glossy maps weren't just placed at the end of the Bible?  Whatever the case, following the maps section is a helpful 43-page glossary of names, places, and terms.  Each entry contains about a sentence or two of information, including scriptural references.  There are then indexes to the apologetics materials, which are scattered throughout the Didache Bible.  At the very back is a 20-page subject index, including biblical names, which includes a ton of scriptural references and cross-references.  One noticable omission would be a table of Sunday and Feast Day readings from the Lectionary.

Again, this is a wonderful resource in a truly compact size.  As I mentioned above, there will be many people who are going to be excited to get their hands on this.  In particular, if you are interested in apologetics and studying the three-fold spiritual sense of Scripture, as outlined in Dei Verbum and the CCC, you will have a lot to love in the content of this Bible.  I have included some photos of this Bible on a previous post.  You can also go to MTF for a sneak peak.

I would like to that Ignatius Press for providing a review copy. There was no pressure in me providing a positive review of this Bible.


Russ NY said...

Tim, thanks for the lengthy review. I'm almost tempted to....

rolf said...

Maybe Ignatius Press will publish their future Ignatius Catholic Study Bible in a volume about this size.

Biblical Catholic said...

What about the size of the font? Am I going to be able to read this without wearing my reading glasses?

rolf said...

Biblical Catholic, it is advertised at 9.5 font size. I think that with bold font type and bleed through controlled well, I think this type is easy to read. But that is coming from someone who has to wear reading glasses all the time anyway.

Timothy said...

And the commentary is 8.5.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes; let's hope that there is a uniform consensus with all Catholic Bible publishers to include the Liturgical cycle of readings for Sunday, Feast and weekday masses and that all future publications and reprints have this as it is very useful.